Locals fondly remember late president
The 41st president of the United States had a special connection to Fredericksburg. Locals who worked with him on the establishment of the George H.W. Bush Gallery at the National Museum of the Pacific War, or in other areas, remembered the late president after his death on Friday.
President George H.W. Bush was 94 years old.
On Wednesday, the museum will host a ceremony to honor him. (See separate story for details.)
Gen. Michael Hagee took over the Admiral Nimitz Foundation from Adm. C.D. Grojean. The hometown Marine Corps Commandant remembers the establishment of the Bush Gallery, which was a two-phase, 44,000-square-foot addition to the Admiral Nimitz Museum.
Hagee remembered the 2009 dedication for the second expansion.
“Originally, he was supposed to parachute in, but it was overcast, cold and windy,” Hagee said. “I got a call that said they could not land at the Gillespie County Airport. The crowd that day stretched all along Austin Street from Washington to Lincoln, but did any of them leave? Not one.”
Hagee said Bush, then well into his eighties, did a great job speaking at the ceremony.
He signed an autograph book for Kelly Sullivan Loughren, the granddaughter of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, who lost five sons during World War II and have an exhibit in the museum about that sad episode.
“The president was always so gracious and made note of the family’s sacrifice. And then he lightened the mood by saying, ‘Oh, look. I get to sign right next to Mickey Mouse,” Hagee remembered.
As he exited a side door after the ceremony, Hagee said the crowd began chanting “Four more years! Four more years!”
But he looked at Hagee and said, “No way.”
Hagee marveled at Bush’s resilience and character.
“He had a lot of downs in his life. He came from a fairly influential family, went to Princeton, but he lost a daughter and he later lost a race for the Senate in Texas,” Hagee said. “President Nixon threw him a bone and let him be Ambassador to the U.N., and probably few people at that time even knew what that was. But he went there with very little foreign policy experience and became a great ambassador and ended up being one of the best ever presidents for foreign policy.”
“He reminded me of Adm. (Chester) Nimitz,” Hagee said. “He did not let adversity get him down.”
Joe Cavanaugh, then museum director, said he and Hagee gave a tour to the Bushes of the exhibits, which contains video of Bush being rescued after being shot down. In the video, he climbs aboard a submarine.
Cavanaugh said the president quipped to his wife, “Pretty good-looking guy, huh?”
Mayor Linda Langerhans recalled when the Bushes were in town for a social event.
“At the end of the event, our two grandsons, who were about eight years old, ran ahead to their car,” Langerhans said. “George H.W. asked Barbara to watch the boys while they stomped their feet with tennis shoes that had lights in the soles that lit up.”
“They both remarked how amazing that was and they shook the boys’ hands,” she said. “I thought what a great thing for he and Barbara to do. It was so normal and so nice of them to talk to the boys for a minute.”
Sherry Freeman, of Fredericksburg, remembers being friends with George W. Bush and Laura in the oil industry days. Her husband, John, ran the Union Texas Petroleum Office.
“Big George and Barbara would come to Midland every three months to see George and Laura. Big George and W would jog around the track at Midland High School,” she said.
Freeman mostly remembered how down to earth the first couple was.
“I introduced her at a large women’s luncheon at the Midland Convention Center,” Freeman said. “And she said, ‘Don’t call me Mrs. Bush, call me Barbara.’”
She said Mrs. Bush even told the crowd she got her dress at JC Penney and talked about her “faux pearl necklace.” In a more serious moment, she recognized a local pediatrician who had helped the future couple through the loss of their daughter.
“She said, ‘I want to point out a great lady today who walked me through a horrible experience.’ And she introduced Dr. Dorothy Wybel, who guided her through the loss of her young daughter, Robin, to leukemia,” she said.
“It’s hard to speak about Big George without speaking of Barbara. They were just a great American family,” Freeman said. “I’m going to say they put steadiness in the steps of their family, children and grandchildren. They had a great faith and they were always thinking of others. They were just so down to earth — there was nothing ‘put on’ about them. They were just so real.”